A Workforce for the Future

A thriving agri-food sector in Illinois is contingent upon attracting and retaining a workforce prepared for the future.

Did you know Illinois’ agri-food sector is the top economic generator in the state and a significant contributor to workforce? Illinois jobs directly related to food and agriculture, including farming and ranching, manufacturing and wholesale and retail functions, total over 900,000, representing nearly 15 percent of all Illinois employment. These jobs represent $34 billion in wages and generate an economic output of $147 billion dollars. When you add in the many industry-related indirect jobs, there are over 1.4 million jobs representing 23% of Illinois’ workforce and contributing $267 billion to the economy.[1]

Illinois’ agri-food sector is facing a critical workforce and skills gap, however, that if left unaddressed will affect the sector’s long-term economic sustainability, societal vibrancy, and resiliency.

  • There is a shortfall in qualified, diverse professionals in food and agriculture, and businesses are reporting difficulty in attracting qualified and skilled workers[2]
  • Misperceptions and lack of knowledge exists regarding career paths in the industry
  • Primary K-12 institutions are under resourced to teach about and showcase food and agriculture job and career opportunities[3]
  • 2- and 4-Year academic institutions are struggling to attract agri-food students and provide students skillsets demanded by industry today
  • The agri-food sector lacks racial and gender diversity
  • Fewer and fewer people have direct ties to agriculture, meaning the traditional pool of recruits is dwindling
  • Today’s generations want to “work for a purpose” and seek out companies and organizations that align with their values
  • Competition for talent is fierce in urban and rural areas alike
  • There are limited workforce activities and initiatives in place that focus exclusively on the breadth of the agri-food sector.
  • Currently available data isn’t necessarily comprehensive of the sector, systems-based, timely, or focused on future needs.

[1] Feeding the Economy, https://feedingtheeconomy.com/
[2] USDA NIFA/Purdue, https://www.purdue.edu/usda/employment/
[3]  Illinois Agriculture Education Teaching Vacancies, https://www.ilaged.org/jobopenings

Creative solutions that target systemic issues and collaborative cross-sector engagement are needed.

A consortium of agri-food businesses, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, and philanthropist are banding together to understand the future workforce landscape, assess areas for improvement, and advance opportunities that will position Illinois as a premier destination for attracting, training, and retaining a skilled and diverse workforce.

Illinois Agri-Food Workforce Initiative Collaborators:

Archer Daniels Midland, BRANDT, Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, CNH Industrial, Compeer Financial, COUNTRY Financial, Decatur Public Schools Foundation, Facilitating Coordination in Agriculture Education (FCAE), GROWMARK, Illinois AgTech Accelerator, Illinois Farm Business Farm Management (FBFM), OSI Group, University of Illinois

Workforce Initiative Update:

The Workforce Collaborative evaluated several potential pilot concepts aimed at increasing positive perceptions and awareness of the diverse array of careers available within the AFNR industry in Illinois. Pathful Connect was identified as a digital tool that fit within the Collaborative’s scope and criteria for connecting with underrepresented individuals in an informative, engaging, and equitable manner.

Pathful Connect is an online virtual platform that connects curriculum, industry expertise and classroom needs to engage students in career exploration opportunities. The platform makes it easy for teachers to connect with professionals to leverage industry expertise while providing a reliable platform for companies and professionals to engage in the classroom. By bridging the gap between academics and the workplace, Pathful Connect gives students insight into real-world skills and inspires them to discover viable career paths through interaction with role models across the globe.

In partnership with Facilitating Coordination for Agriculture Education, ILAFA is in the process of hiring a Agri-Food Careers Coordinator. This successful candidate will play an important role increasing student awareness of AFNR careers via Pathful, a virtual career awareness and readiness platform, while supporting the expansion of AFNR-focused education programs and career-related resources at schools, primarily in urban and suburban communities.

If you are interested in partnering or supporting this program, please contact sam@ilagrifood.org